Kiriwong: School of Hope

SET has no religious agenda but helps support a high school for Buddhist novice monks. Monastic schools are often the last hope for thousands of impoverished youngsters looking for a secular education.

Kiriwong School is determined to provide a good quality education for boys from disadvantaged backgrounds. In 2005 it faced many problems. Its government grant wasn’t even enough to buy basic classroom tools for the students or to keep the school in good repair. The school had no modern teaching aids, the library was full of tatty old books, the roof leaked, the electrical system was dangerous, there was no mains water supply to the toilets and all the classrooms needed refurbishing – and that was just the start of the problems.

The school opened in 1993 and was the first secular high school for novices in Nakhon Sawan. Its maximum enrollment of 300 students was quickly filled by youngsters who traveled from all over the country to take advantage of the good quality education the school promised. Many boys ordained as novices simply for the opportunity of an entirely free education. In its first five years the school lived up to its promise but in later years, standards declined.  By 2005, student enrollment had dropped to just 60 novices and the school faced closure. Insufficient financial support, poor management and a lack of vision, enthusiasm and staff motivation were all factors. That’s when SET became involved.

In mid-2006, a new head-teacher was appointed. Young and enthusiastic, Phra Kamon was determined to restore the school’s high standards. He understands the importance of the school to its students – he should do; he studied there himself when he was a novice monk. He says: “Our students are all from very poor families. Without monastic schools, they have little hope of getting any sort of education at all. Most became novices because that was their only option; the only way they could escape from poverty, abuse, abandonment or some other tragic circumstance. It’s our duty to ensure they have the same educational opportunities as other youngsters.

“Few of our students want to spend the rest of their lives in a monastery and most will disrobe after they finish grades 9 or 12, so we should be preparing them for when they leave our care. Although they’re from poor backgrounds, these boys aren’t stupid. Since SET started helping us, dozens of students have disrobed after finishing their studies at the school and have gone on to study at vocational colleges for trades or skills, or to gain university degrees, all with SET scholarships. They just need a good start and the right opportunities.

“Until SET starting helping us, we weren’t even able to provide basic classroom tools for the students, like exercise books and pencils. Our library was full of books discarded by other schools as being out-of-date or too tatty for use, but they were just as useless to our students. We needed a new library with up-to-date, interesting books which would encourage our students to read. Thanks to SET, we now have that. It was also important to prepare our students for college or university by making them computer-literate. SET has established an IT classroom with twenty computers and we also now have an excellent Science room, also equipped by SET. In many ways, Kiriwong now has higher standards and is better equipped than some rural schools.”